News & Current Affairs

November 5, 2008

Obama wins historic US election

Democratic Senator Barack Obama has been elected the first black president of the United States.

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight… change has come to America,” the president-elect told a jubilant crowd at a park in Chicago.

His rival John McCain accepted defeat, saying “I deeply admire and commend” Mr Obama. He called on his supporters to lend the next president their goodwill.

The BBC’s Justin Webb said the result would have a profound impact on the US.

“On every level America will be changed by this result… [it] will never be the same,” he said.

Mr Obama appeared with his family, and his running mate Joe Biden, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Grant Park, Chicago.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” he said.

He said he had received an “extraordinarily gracious” call from Mr McCain.

He praised the former Vietnam prisoner of war as a “brave and selfless leader”.

“He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine,” the victor said.

He had warm words for his family, announcing to his daughters: “Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.”

Congratulations… You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life
President George W Bush

But he added: “Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep… But America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”

From red to blue

Mr Obama captured the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, before breaking through the winning threshold of 270 electoral college votes at 0400 GMT, when projections showed he had also taken California and a slew of other states.

HAVE YOUR SAY

I find myself strangely emotional about this. I want to go wake up my neighbours and hug them

Amy Scullane, Boston

Then came the news that he had also seized Florida, Virginia and Colorado – all of which voted Republican in 2004 – turning swathes of the map from red to blue.

Several other key swing states are hanging in the balance.

In Indiana and North Carolina, with most of the vote counted, there was less than 0.5% between the two candidates.

However, the popular vote remains close. At 0600 GMT it stood at 51.3% for the Democratic Senator from Illinois, against 47.4% for Arizona Senator McCain.

The main developments include:

  • Mr Obama is projected to have seized Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada – all Republican wins in 2004.
  • He is also projected to have won: Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Delaware, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island, California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon.
  • Mr McCain is projected to have won: Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Georgia, Louisiana, West Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota.
  • Turnout was reported to be extremely high – in some places “unprecedented”.
  • The Democrats made gains in the Senate race, seizing seats from the Republicans in Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Colorado. They also increased their majority of the House of Representatives.
  • Exit polls suggest the economy was the major deciding factor for six out of 10 voters.
  • Nine out of 10 said the candidates’ race was not important to their vote, the Associated Press reported. Almost as many said age did not matter.

LOSSES AND GAINS
Key states
Projected gains for Obama in former Republican states of Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Nevada
Senate seats
Virginia: Democrat Mark Warner replaces retiring Republican John Warner
New Hampshire: Democrat Jeanne Shaheen unseats Republican John Sununu
North Carolina: Democrat Kay Hagan replaces Republican Elizabeth Dole
New Mexico: Democrat Tom Udall replaces retiring Republican Pete Domenici

Several states reported very high turnout. It was predicted 130 million Americans, or more, would vote – more than for any election since 1960.

Many people said they felt they had voted in a historic election – and for many African-Americans the moment was especially poignant.

John Lewis, an activist in the civil rights era who was left beaten on an Alabama bridge 40 years ago, told Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church: “This is a great night. It is an unbelievable night. It is a night of thanksgiving.”

Besides winning the presidency, the Democrats tightened their grip on Congress.

The entire US House of Representatives and a third of US Senate seats were up for grabs.

Democrats won several Senate seats from the Republicans, but seemed unlikely to to gain the nine extra they wanted to reach the 60-seat “super-majority”, that could prevent Republicans blocking legislation.

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November 4, 2008

No apathy as US election day looms

No apathy as US election day looms

After nearly two years of digesting speeches and slogans, of being bombarded with adverts and requests for money, of coming to terms with the possibility of the first non-white or female president, Americans are nearly there.

Pedestrians walk along a pavement that is lined with dozens of election signs

One thing is certain: Americans are ready for this election

They voted in record numbers in the primary elections and now look poised to do the same in the general election. In fact, they already have been.

In more than 30 states, early voting began several weeks ago. It has not been uncommon to see large lines snaking around entrances to libraries, community centres and other voting locations.

If there is one thing that can confidently be said, it is that Americans are ready for this election.

At a time of economic crisis, with opinion polls consistently showing that large numbers of people are unhappy with the direction their country is taking, there is little sense of apathy.

‘Mind-boggling’ costs

And, after eight years of an increasingly unpopular Republican presidency, the advantage is with the Democratic Party – and the party’s candidate, Barack Obama.

Barack Obama campaigns in Ohio

Mr Obama has mustered a record-breaking fundraising operation

He has raised mind-boggling amounts of cash – far in excess of even the most generous estimates – enabling him to compete across the country and to afford extravagant amounts of advertising in these final few weeks, culminating in the half hour “infomercial” which aired at prime time on several US networks last week.

Of course, it’s not just the money. Throughout the months that I’ve covered this election, the levels of excitement and enthusiasm at Obama rallies have consistently outstripped those of his opponents, both Democratic and Republican.

Only Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin – both historic candidates, in their differing ways, have managed to inspire crowds, in a similar fashion.

Transformational

But the question is: Will this enthusiasm, enhanced voter registration and substantial financial advantage be carried over into the polling stations?

If it is, Sen Obama has a real chance of winning many of the states, which have crossed from safe Republican territory into the “toss up” column; places like Indiana and Virginia, which last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate when the current one was just three years old.

The election could be transformational, not just in terms of bringing a non-white president to the White House, but in re-drawing the electoral map, at the same time.

John McCain campaigns in Florida

Behind in the polls, Mr McCain insists will be the comeback kid

There are plenty of potential obstacles, though. Some are visceral.

When it comes down to it, how many Americans will find it hard to put a cross next to a man with an exotic name and mixed-race background?

Will Mr Obama, for all his inspiring rhetoric and calm demeanour be seen as too aloof and professorial?

Will Americans prefer the earthier, more “familiar-looking”, Mr McCain; a feature of public life for several decades, with an inspiring story of war time heroism – and reputation for bridging partisan divides?

And what of the polls, which have shown a fairly consistent Obama lead for the past few weeks? Will that keep Democratic voters away, through a sense of complacency, or, perhaps, discourage Republicans?

Palin effect

Certainly, the McCain campaign has made much of the tightening numbers in recent days and in places, such as Pennsylvania – a must win state for the Republican candidate.

There, the Arizona senator’s argument that Mr Obama is too inexperienced in foreign affairs and too left-wing in his economic views is gaining traction.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Higher than usual number of voters leads to long queues
First-time voters are confused by the process, adding to delays
Voters are challenged over their registration or identity at the polls
Polling stations experience problems with voting machines
High turn-out leads to shortage of ballot papers
Householders with a repossession notice denied right to vote

Another big unknown is the Palin effect. Mr McCain’s running mate has inspired and disappointed in equal measure. She is likely to be a reason for many on both sides to turn out.

So, will the pro or anti forces be the most energised?

And whose get out the vote efforts will be the most successful? The Republicans have a good track record in this and the McCain camp seems to have kept cash aside for the final push, but the Obama campaign has broken new ground in its organisational powers.

The experience of the long primary campaign is likely to come in very handy.

Undecided voters

And what of those undecided voters? The sense I get, is that many are people who voted for President Bush four years ago, but are still unconvinced by Mr McCain – either for reasons of ideology or temperament.

If that’s the case, Mr Obama doesn’t need to win them over. He’d be happy if they simply stayed at home.

At this point, the odds remain in favour of an Obama win. But it’s not the bookmakers who will decide the result of the election; it’s the American people.

And after the longest, most expensive – and, according to many veteran observers – most inspiring election campaign in living memory, they are about to make that decision.

Rarely can their choice have seemed so consequential for the country, or the world.

October 3, 2008

Biden and Palin debate

Biden and Palin debate

The two US vice-presidential candidates have traded blows on the financial crisis, climate change and foreign policy in their only TV debate.

Democrat Joe Biden sought to link Republican presidential candidate John McCain to the policies of President Bush, saying he was “no maverick”.

Republican Sarah Palin defended herself against claims of inexperience and said the McCain ticket would bring change.

Voter polls suggested Mr Biden had won but Mrs Palin did better than expected.

The debate at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, was seen as particularly crucial for Mrs Palin, whose poll ratings have fallen.

Mrs Palin played to her strengths and her image as a mother in touch with ordinary Americans.

For the most part she spoke fluently but simply about the economy, climate change and the war in Iraq, our correspondent says, and there were few of the stumbling gaffes that have become the staple of late-night comedy shows.

Two polls conducted after the debate, by US networks CNN and CBS News, judged Mr Biden the winner. However, the CNN poll found a large majority thought Mrs Palin had done better than expected.

‘Hockey moms’

Asked by moderator Gwen Ifill who was at fault for the current problems with the US banking system, Mrs Palin blamed predatory lenders and “greed and corruption” on Wall Street.

It would be a travesty if we were to quit now in Iraq
Sarah Palin
Republican VP nominee

Senator McCain would “put partisanship aside” to help resolve the crisis, she said, and had raised the alarm over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac long ago.

She said “Joe six-packs and hockey moms across the country” – referring to middle-class voters – needed to say “never again” to Wall Street chiefs.

Mrs Palin also accused Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of seeking to raise taxes but Mr Biden rejected that claim.

He said the economic crisis was evidence that the policies of the past eight years had been “the worst we’ve ever had” and accused Mr McCain of being “out of touch” on the economy.

Senator Obama’s plan to raise taxes on households earning over $250,000 was “fairness”, Mr Biden said, unlike Mr McCain’s proposals for more tax breaks for big companies.

‘Dead wrong’

On foreign policy, Mrs Palin accused Mr Obama of refusing to acknowledge that the “surge” strategy of extra troops in Iraq had worked.

He’s not been a maverick on virtually anything that people talk about around the kitchen table
Joe Biden
Democratic VP nominee

“It would be a travesty if we were to quit now in Iraq,” she said, describing Mr Obama’s plan to withdraw combat troops a “white flag of surrender”.

Mr Biden countered by saying Mr McCain had been “dead wrong” on Iraq and had yet to present a plan to end the conflict.

He said the US was wasting $10bn a month in Iraq while ignoring the real front line in the fight against terrorism, Afghanistan.

In turn, Mrs Palin said Mr Obama was naive for saying he was willing to talk directly to the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba. “That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous,” she said.

The pair also sparred on the issue of climate change.

Mrs Palin, governor of energy-rich Alaska, said human activities were a factor in climate change but that climatic cycles were also an element. She urged US energy independence as part of the answer.

Key words used most frequently by Joe Biden in the debate

Mr Biden pointed to climate change as one of the major points on which the two campaigns differed, saying: “If you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a solution.”

He said he and Mr Obama backed “clean-coal” technology and accused Mr McCain of having voted against funding for alternative energy projects and seeing only one solution: “Drill, drill, drill.”

While Mrs Palin described her party’s candidate as “the consummate maverick”, her rival argued that Mr McCain had followed the Bush administration’s policies on important issues such as Iraq.

“He’s not been a maverick on virtually anything that people talk about around the kitchen table,” Mr Biden said.

Overall, commentators highlighted Mrs Palin’s frequent use of a “folksy” style, for example using expressions like “doggone it” and telling her opponent: “Aw, say it ain’t so, Joe.”

They also noted how Mr Biden appeared emotional as he talked about raising his two young sons alone after a car crash killed his first wife.

Poll shift

According to a Pew Research Center poll, two-thirds of voters planned to follow the debate, far more than in 2004.

McCain and running mate Sarah Palin at Republican convention in St Paul on 4 September 2008

Sarah Palin was a huge hit at the Republican convention last month

A new poll by the Washington Post suggests that 60% of voters now see Mrs Palin as lacking the experience to be an effective president.

One-third say they are less likely to vote for Senator McCain, as a result.

Independent voters, who are not affiliated to either political party, have the most sceptical views of the 44-year-old Alaska governor.

Another poll, for CBS News, gives Senator Barack Obama 49% to 40% for Mr McCain.

It is the latest in a series of opinion polls that have shown a significant shift in the direction of Mr Obama since the economic crisis began.

Mrs Palin, whose fiery speech at last month’s Republican convention inspired Christian conservatives, produces unusually strong feelings – both positive and negative – among voters.

Key words used most frequently by Sarah Palin in the debate

Although Mrs Palin has succeeded in mobilising conservative Republicans, her key challenge is to appeal to the swing voters who could determine who will win the battleground states, analysts say.

In particular, she needs to win over the “Wal-Mart moms” – white, working-class married women.

A recent poll of customers of discount giant Wal-Mart suggested that Mr McCain was slightly ahead with this group in Ohio and Florida, while Mr Obama was leading in Virginia and Colorado.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is scaling back its operations in another swing state, Michigan, effectively conceding the advantage to Mr Obama there.

September 19, 2008

Small-town girl v big-city boy

Small-town girl v big-city boy

Virginia-based author Joe Bageant claimed Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin as a fellow “redneck”, in a recent essay for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.He meant it as a compliment. Here Jamie Stiehm, a city-dwelling political commentator, asks whether small-town values are all they are cracked up to be.

When an American refers to someone as “small-town”, it’s seldom clear whether it’s meant as praise or scorn.

Trump Tower in Chicago
Sarah Palin declared psychological war on Barack Obama by setting up a ‘small-town girl v big-city boy’ dichotomy

It all depends on the speaker, subject, listener and ZIP code where the conversation is taking place.

For some, small towns are where virtues live: near the diner, yarn shop and swimming hole. For others, “small-town” is a synonym for smug narrow-mindedness.

Governor Sarah Palin, the political hurricane that made landfall in early September as the surprise Republican vice-presidential nominee, hit upon the deepest contradiction in the American character. It’s as old as the fierce fight between two founding fathers – urbane Alexander Hamilton of New York and Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia slave-owning gentleman of the land.

We Americans still have a romantic notion about the simple small town, which goes hand in hand with Jefferson’s idealized “yeoman farmer”. But in real life, most of us live in the busy, peopled world Hamilton envisaged.

Ms Palin declared psychological war on Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, right away by setting up a “small-town girl versus big-city boy” dichotomy.

In her hello-to-the-country speech, Palin zeroed in on Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago before he went to Harvard Law School. That was in another metropolis known as Cambridge, a lively academic grove in Boston.

In a rare move for a political unknown, Palin made it personal between the man running for president, Obama, and herself. They are of the same generation: she is 44 to his 47, and represent bipolar extremes.

Jamie Stiehm
Jamie Stiehm is a political journalist based in Washington DC. Her essays on the 2008 presidential campaign have appeared in the liberal, pro-Obama Huffington Post.

“I have the privilege of living most of my life in a small town,” Palin told roaring Republicans at their convention.

“I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain… I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organiser, except you have actual responsibilities.”

Gopher Prairie

But, just a moment, what’s so great about being mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska? Whether Ms Palin ever made time to see the skylines and neighborhoods of Philadelphia, Boston or Baltimore is arguably more to the purpose of governing the United States.

For like it or not, we are a nation composed of mostly city dwellers.

Sarah Palin
We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity
Sarah Palin quotes the late Hearst journalist, Westbrook Pegler

The 1920 census was the point in our social history when the population changed from living in rural and small communities to living in cities.

That shift is mirrored beautifully in the literature of the period, known as “The Revolt from the Village,” as critic Carl van Doren put it in The Nation in 1921. This revolt was accompanied by a rush to breathe in the exhilarating big city by young men and women, as told in the autobiographical novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe.

The most famous work in the anti-small town movement was the 1920 novel Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis, who based fictional Gopher Prairie on his own Minnesota hometown.

The Nobel laureate author opened with a world-weary, ironical note: “This story would be the same in Ohio or Montana, in Kansas or Kentucky‚Ķ Main Street is the climax of civilization.”

Biographer Richard Lingeman, also the author of Small Town America, said Lewis’ masterpiece launched “a conscious, definitive attack on the stuffiness, provincialism, smugness, conformity and cruel gossip of small town life, intended to puncture the myth once and for all.”

World citizen

Yet here the heartland myth persists, in popular culture as well as partisan politics. Rock singer John Mellencamp’s song, Small Town, tells the other side of the story told by Lewis: “No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from/I cannot forget the people who love me/Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town/And people let me be just what I want to be.”

The lyrics are in an ode to his Indiana hometown.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama would have a hard time laying claim to small-town credentials

Mellencamp is a big Obama supporter, as it happens. Maybe the Democratic nominee would be well advised to take the singer on the road to help shore up his support in small towns in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania?

One of the strengths of Obama’s curriculum vitae, for some of his supporters, is its variety. Growing up, he lived in Hawaii and Indonesia. He studied in LA, New York and Boston and knows his way around Washington.

He’s a world citizen.

He’d have a hard time claiming small-town status, though Springfield, Illinois, where he served as a state legislator, is a fairly small town where another lanky lawyer who ran for President once lived. (That would be, of course, Abraham Lincoln.)

No doubt certain strengths come from living in a small town, especially for politicians.

Bill Clinton, who hails from Hope, Arkansas, embodies the easy social connectedness which a small town upbringing can produce.

Everyone tends to relate to everyone else, up and down the social scale. People know the person you were in high school.

You might even be married to someone you knew in high school, as Palin told the world she was. “My guy,” was how she introduced her husband, Todd Palin, to the cheering crowd that night.

You might even be pregnant in high school, as her daughter Bristol is – but somehow the redoubtable Palin has turned that into a small-town virtue, too.

Urban sophisticates

In her convention speech, she quoted anonymously Westbrook Pegler, the long-gone Hearst newspaper columnist and scourge of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.”

Was the subtext that urban sophisticates like Obama are somehow suspect?

Just what we need, a new culture war at home.

As if we Americans weren’t demoralized enough already by the economy and the war in Iraq.

But there is no obvious reason why the big city guy has to lose this ideological battle.

Maybe he should engage and ask Americans: hey, whose world would you rather live in? Jefferson’s or Hamilton’s? Mine or Palin’s? Wasilla or Chicago?

He’ll have to watch out though, or the small-town girl will have him for lunch at the diner.

September 6, 2008

Popular comic strip ignites controversy

Popular comic strip ignites controversy

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — For most of our lives cartoonist Lynn Johnston has had us hanging on every plot twist and complication she could pack into 29 years of “For Better or For Worse.”

Lynn Johnston ended the original run of "For Better or For Worse" Sunday, but is now returning to the past.

Lynn Johnston ended the original run of “For Better or For Worse” Sunday, but is now returning to the past.

Take one of the biggest, longest-running ones: Would Elizabeth, seriously challenged in picking men, finally dump that silly helicopter flyboy boyfriend of hers and just marry Anthony, for God’s sake? He’d been her sweetheart off and on since their grade-school days and had rescued her from the crazy would-be rapist she once worked with. So forget that the mustache Anthony grew in recent years made him look so much like a dork that even other comic strips began making fun of it. Life is, as Johnston would say, for better or for worse.

But then the cartoonist pulled the rug completely out from under us Sunday with a plot twist that made even the heartbreaking death of the Patterson family dog Farley (as he saved little April from drowning) seem pale in comparison. Even the comic strip that outraged readers by the thousands in 1993 when Lawrence acknowledged he was gay couldn’t top this.

There it was in full color in the big Sunday strip: As Elizabeth’s parents are dancing at her wedding (to Anthony, thank God) Johnston herself enters the strip in cartoon form and tells us that starting the next day “For Better or For Worse” will rocket back almost 30 years in time to soon after it began.

Elizabeth, now 27, would be a baby again. Michael, who loved to taunt his sister, calling her “Lizard Breath” when they were growing up, would be about grade-school age. On the positive side, family patriarch John Patterson would shed that pot belly he’d been growing in recent years and his wife, Elly, could finally put away all those anti-wrinkle products she’d been obsessing over for about the last decade.

And readers of some 2,000 newspaper comic sections would be left to scratch their heads and mutter, “What the … ”

“Interesting idea and it may very well work with the fan base that she’s got,” says Dave Strickler, a comic-strip fanatic who runs the Web site comicsaccess.com and has compiled a list of every comic strip syndicated in the United States from 1924 to 1995.

Strickler, like other fans of the strip, complains that it has gotten a little too sentimental in recent years, with Johnston concentrating too much on the philosophical musings she is famous for saving until the final panel and not enough on the story line.

At the same time, he says, the strip has grown to include so many characters that it was getting hard to tell them apart. He would sometimes mistake Elizabeth for her younger sister, April, or even her mother, Elly. (Those anti-wrinkle products must really be working!)

“If she goes back to the original art and carries on with the wit she’s capable of, there’s no reason to believe current fans won’t be loyal and new fans won’t enjoy it as well,” he said of the change.

For the time being, fans are left to try to figure out what would have happened to the gang had they kept on aging.

Johnston did tie up some loose ends in that last strip, explaining that Michael, who nearly died a few years ago when he ran into a burning apartment to save the manuscript of his Great Canadian Novel (the comic strip is set in Johnston’s native Canada) has gone on to publish four books and sign a movie deal.

Ailing Grandpa Jim, she said, would live long enough to hold Elizabeth’s first baby before dying at age 89.

Barely able to speak after suffering a stroke, Jim still managed to think one of the strip’s better quips last month when, after seeing the bride and groom rush into his hospital room straight from their wedding, he declared their act “a classic case of hitch and run.”

Whether editors will embrace the strip or cut and run remains to be seen.

About 2 percent of the 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada that carry “For Better or For Worse,” canceled when Johnston changed things from a real-time serial to a daily comic set in a fixed time, Universal Press Syndicate spokeswoman Kathie Kerr said Wednesday.

For some of the newspapers that did, reaction was swift.

Kathy Lu, features editor at The Roanoke (Virginia) Times said about 100 people e-mailed or phoned over the next two days, most of them unhappy.

“It felt like we were just going to be doing the same thing over again, even though she said she was going to be drawing some new stories,” Lu said of deciding not to continue the strip.

It was an argument die-hard fans weren’t buying.

Although Johnston has said that from this point the strips will be about a 50-50 mix of “classic” repeats and what she calls “new-runs” that will be drawn in the old style and set in the previous time but involve new stories, one man told Lu he wouldn’t care if every strip was old.

“He said, ‘It’s like watching ‘(The) Andy Griffith (Show),’ ” she said of the 1960s sitcom still in reruns. “He said, ‘I watch that show over and over again.’ ”

In an interview she recently posted on YouTube, Johnston said she was aware of fans’ concerns and hoped they would “hang in there with me and see what I do because it’s never been done before.”

In recent years, she has talked of simply ending the strip when the time came or of handing it off to someone else. She indicated in the YouTube interview that splitting with her husband of more than 30 years last year prompted her to abandon those plans.

“I never thought I’d be single at this time in my life,” the 61-year-old artist said. “And with that in mind, I still want to work. I still want to keep my hand in it.”

September 3, 2008

US ‘terror’ suspect freed from jail

US ‘terror’ suspect freed from jail

Al-Arian is now under home detention pending trial for contempt of court [GALLO/GETTY]

A US court has ordered the release of an Arab-American former professor who had been in jail for five years after he was accused of being a Palestinian terrorist.

Sami al-Arian was freed on Tuesday after US immigration officials failed to explain his continued detention pending a trial for refusing to testify before a grand jury about a cluster of Muslim organisations in northern Virginia.

“We are obviously relieved and delighted,” Jonathan Turley, al-Arian’s lawyer, said.

But the former computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida, in custody since early 2003, is not yet fully free.

He must remain under home detention at his daughter’s residence in Virginia, pending trial.

In February 2003, federal prosecutors charged al-Arian with being a leader of the Palestinian resistance movement, Islamic Jihad, which the US has labelled a “terrorist organisation”.

A jury acquitted him of eight charges out of the 17 against him but was deadlocked on the others.

Al-Arian later struck a plea bargain and admitted to lesser charges of conspiring to aid the group by helping a family member with links to it to get immigration benefits, and by lying to a reporter about another person’s links to it.

He was sentenced to nearly five years in prison, during which time federal prosecutors sought his testimony for a grand jury investigation.

Last month US District Judge Leonie Brinkema postponed the contempt trial and questioned whether the charges violated the terms of al-Arian’s plea agreement which bars the justice department from standing in the way of his deportation after he has served jail time.

August 22, 2008

Obama set to reveal running-mate

Obama set to reveal running-mate

Barack Obama on the campaign trail on 21 August in Chester, Virginia

Speculation has been rife about who will share Mr Obama’s platform

US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is expected to reveal his choice of vice-presidential running mate within hours.

He has told journalists he has made his decision, which will be revealed by text message to the party’s senators and supporters, and journalists.

Democrats gather for their party convention in Denver on Monday.

Mr Obama and his running mate are set to make their first campaign appearance together in Illinois, on Saturday.

“I’ve made the selection, that’s all you’re gonna get,” Mr Obama told reporters while campaigning in Virginia on Thursday.

Text alert

In an interview with USA Today newspaper, the Illinois senator said he had selected a running mate who was independent and would challenge him in the White House.

JUSTIN WEBB’S AMERICA
Hang on, I think that’s a text coming in

He added that he had opted for someone who would help him strengthen the economy, and was also ready to act as president.

But Mr Obama gave no clue as to whether he had notified his preferred running mate yet.

It is possible the Obama camp might keep the name of the vice-presidential selection a secret until just before the appearance in Springfield on Saturday but, realistically, that seems unlikely, says the BBC’s North America editor, Justin Webb.

The expectation is that during the course of Friday a text message will be received by those who have signed up for it, revealing the name.

Surprise in store?

The conventional wisdom is that vice-presidential candidates do not swing elections, our editor reports.

John McCain, file pic

But Mr Obama’s choice is interesting because it will reveal a little more about the style of the man and how willing he is to be adventurous.

Most commentators believe he will play it safe, opting for a governor, perhaps Tim Kaine of Virginia, or a political veteran like Senator Joe Biden.

Some Democrats are hoping he has a surprise up his sleeve – a Hillary Clinton or an Al Gore.

Mr Obama’s rival, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, has reportedly not settled on a running mate.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are reported to be under serious consideration for the role.

August 20, 2008

Dave Matthews Band founder dies

Dave Matthews Band founder dies

LeRoi Moore

LeRoi Moore was a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band

LeRoi Moore, a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band, has died aged 46, his publicist has said.

The versatile saxophonist died after suffering complications from injuries sustained in a vehicle accident in June on his Virginia farm.

Publicist Ambrosia Healy said he died on Tuesday at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, in Los Angeles.

A statement announcing the star’s unexpected death on the band’s website said: “We are deeply saddened”.

Classically trained

Moore initially went to hospital in June after crashing an all-terrain vehicle on his farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia.

He was later discharged and had returned to his Los Angeles home to begin a physical rehabilitation program when complications forced him back to the hospital in July.

It’s always easier to leave than be left
Dave Matthews

The musician was best known for donning dark sunglasses at live concerts.

He was classically trained but said jazz was his main musical influence, according to a biography on the band’s web site.

The group formed in 1991 in Charlottesville, Virginia, when lead singer Dave Matthews was working as a bartender.

He handed a demo tape of his songs to Moore, who liked what he heard and recruited his friend and fellow jazzman Carter Beauford to play drums.

The group broke out of the local music scene with the album Under the Table and Dreaming.

They went on to win a Grammy award in 1997 for the hit song So Much to Say, from their second album Crash.

Other hits include What Would You Say, Crash Into Me and Satellite.

The band went on with its show Tuesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where lead singer Dave Matthews dedicated the entire show to Moore.

“It’s always easier to leave than be left,” Matthews told the crowd, according to Ambrosia Healy, the band’s publicist.

“We appreciate you all being here.”

Saxophonist Jeff Coffin had been sitting in for Moore during the band’s summer tour.


Did you ever meet LeRoi Moore? Tell us about your memories of him. You can send your comments

August 4, 2008

US election at-a-glance: 26 July-1 Aug

US election at-a-glance: 26 July-1 Aug

WEEK IN A NUTSHELL

Barack Obama completes his tour of Europe with a visit to the UK, where he meets Prime Minister Gordon Brown and opposition leader David Cameron. John McCain’s campaign launches a number of attack adverts against Mr Obama, accusing him of cancelling a visit to wounded soldiers because “cameras” would not have been allowed (a charge dismissed as false by Pentagon officials), and of being “the biggest celebrity in the world” over footage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

KEY QUOTES
“There has been a long list. It seems to be getting shorter. And I’m still being mentioned. A lot can change day-to-day. But we’ll see.”
Democratic Virginia Governor Tim Kaine hints about his vice-presidential prospects

“Assuming that Governor Tim Kaine and Governor Kathleen Sebelius are both on Obama’s short-list, I wonder what the tight-lipped Obama world thinks about the leaks coming from Kaine allies as compared to the nada-nothing-bupkis coming from Sebelius’s orbit?”
Marc Ambinder, Atlantic monthly

“He’s the biggest celebrity in the world.”
Voice-over from a John McCain campaign advert, played over footage of Mr Obama’s fellow “celebrities”, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears

“We want to have a serious debate. But so far, we’ve been hearing about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I do have to ask my opponent: is that the best you can come up with?”
Barack Obama

“There is legitimate mockery of a political campaign now, and it isn’t at Obama’s. For McCain’s sake, this tomfoolery needs to stop.”
Former McCain adviser John Weaver hits out at his former employer’s new team

“John McCain and the Republicans, they don’t have any new ideas… they’re going to try to say, ‘Well, you know, he’s got a funny name and he doesn’t look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five dollar bills…”
Was Barack Obama playing the race card?

“A throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris – and that’s just the American press.”
John McCain

“Race wont have any role in my campaign, nor is there any place for it. I’m disappointed that [Mr Obama]’s used it [the race card].”
John McCain thinks so

NUMBER NEWS

Quinnipiac published polls from three of the key swing states this week – Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Although Barack Obama held leads in all three of them, they all suggested that Mr Obama’s lead has shrunk since June 18, when the company last published polls from the states.

In Florida, he fell from 47% to 46%, with his opponent John McCain rising from 43% to 44%.

In Ohio, Quinnipiac also had Mr Obama beating Mr McCain 46%-44%, but previously the pollster had had them at 48%-42%.

In Pennsylvania, Mr Obama’s 12-point lead in June has dropped to seven, according to the poll.

None of these shifts in the polls provides enough evidence on its own for us to conclude that Mr Obama’s lead is slipping, but taken together, they would appear to indicate a slight weakening for Mr Obama in the most important battleground states.

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